A series of anecdotes with or without any connection to the running of a restaurant.

Monday, October 31, 2005



Kids trick-or-treating all evening...

They know that a bowlful of sweets and toys awaits them at No. 5...

I am sure that for these apprentice sorcerers Halloween is just a lot of fun but is Britain going the American way by acquiring American habits???

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Hole in the wall...

Hole in the Wall...

This is the original Hole in the Wall as described by St. Amex and St. Visa...

I only use ATMs on holiday and I think they are great.
But I make sure I use my debit card. I don't own a credit card because I don't believe in debt.

If I don't have it I don't spend...
If I have Karen takes it...
So either way, I always go out light!

At our restaurants, customers are handed the wireless terminal and asked to follow the instructions:
Enter your pin. Press enter.

Do you want to leave a tip...
(Their smile disappears!)

If you do press enter otherwise press CLR (For the waiter to clear off!)
"I've left a tip on the table, you know!"
Most of the time, under the table is a tip...(muck, trash, rubbish...)

Most waiting staff around the world consider their tips (gratuities, pourboire...) to be part of the job but customers are often reluctant to leave a single penny. It is not in their habit to do so.

What is it like in your part of the world?

To tip or not to tip! That is the question!

The picture was taken along the seafront in Cartagena (Murcia). Posted by Picasa


Tapas, Meze, Kemia...what else?

I love to nibble at food! I am a grazer... Give me an array of little dishes and a three-hour lunch or dinner and I am in heaven!

I am at this present moment negociating to open a bar and grill.
This is really serious but I cannot think of a name!
It is situated on a marina... Loads of yachts...

I have about four weeks before it goes public so I need to work fast!

Somebody out there may tickle my imagination... Go on, give it a go!

Can't remember where the picture comes from but thanks to the author.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

My blog is priceless!

How much is your blog worth?

It is only worth the comments I get from my Friendlinks on the side.
I never really thought about its worth until I checked out the link DcVer has on his blog.
I found out that Screamers is worth Zilch, Zero, Nada, Rien, Buggerall!

Does it bother me? Well, not at all because I don't know what I would do with the money.

What would upset me most is if those Webosphere pals I have made since August don't call to say hello! That would definitely would bankrupt my morale!

The picture is of a small beach in Algeria where I spent most of my summers as a kid!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


I used to love quizzes. Any old quiz. Crosswords, pub, TV…

But I have come to the conclusion that, contrary to the belief that being good at quizzes means that you are intelligent, the truth is all you need is a good memory.
Of course, being able to know which wives Henry the 8th killed and which he divorced could simply mean that the mnemonic for Henry XIII's wives could have been learnt by heart rather than through a history lesson.

When I watch University Challenge or Mastermind, I often know the answer to some of the questions. Other answers only elude me because of my selective memory. It invariably chooses to retain some facts as opposed to others with a frustrating randomness!

I discovered Sudoku in February. For those who are not acquainted with this very addictive game, there is no need for a good memory or extensive general knowledge.
The way that numbers, usually one to nine, fit into the grid is solely a question of logic.

The time taken to complete a grid is the only factor by which to measure dexterity. If you haven't already done so, give it a try.

Quizzes that turn you on and why??

Friday, October 21, 2005

My Cheeky, Cheery Wallpaper...

This is my wallpaper: my granddaughter, Evie Louise!

Every time I turn the computer on I am greeted with her cheeky face pulling her tongue at me!
And this cheers me up no end as I start a day of hard toil and sweat...

She was 7 at the time I snapped her and when I showed her this photo last week she paused and then said:
"Wasn't I cheeky when I was little, eh, Grampa!"
The photo was only taken 2 years ago!

Sometimes she calls me Gramps. I pretend to go in the huff but I really love it when she tries to wind me up!

So what's your wallpaper, then?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I believe I can fly.

"The customer is always RIGHT...
...until he's LEFT."

Funny, no?

This is our motto in the restaurants.
It says it all. While the customer is within our walls he always right...(up to a degree!)

If a guy says that his steak is tough as old boot I agree with him... Even when I know that our meat is the best that money can buy and that deep down I feel like saying:

"Get out my classy establishment, you ignoramus who lives on beans on toast at home!" (Karen's favourite meal when I am not around!)

"You heathen, who can't even tell the difference between àl dente and raw or between mange-touts and sugar-snap peas!"

What is the point in arguing with someone who's already made up his mind?

Human nature dictates that if we disagree with someone who's giving us his or her business we have shot ourselves in the foot! That person will perhaps never come back...

What do I want this guy to do?

Yes, return with more business and I know he will! Because I agreed with him. He feels that his opinion is valued and that he is contributing to the well-being of my establishment by offering me constructive criticism. (!)

I may have lost the price of the steak but I have gained this customer for life.

Tell us what really drives you crackers in a restaurant!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Two pints of Christmas Spirit, please...

For us in the restaurant business, Christmas starts in July when the menus are ready and sent to our customers.

At home, Christmas is a time when Karen comes to her own and really shows her true colours.

After our 25 years of marriage, I have at last come to understand the magical effect that Christmas has on my wife.
If she says that this year's tree lights have to be red, a bolt of lightning strikes me on the head and I suddenly become a believer.
I now trust her judgment as Gospel.

"She wants them red, let the bugger have them red!

"The kids quietly smile at their mother's whims but will not openly dare air their views in front of her until she is a little tipsy.
They will play along just to humour her, but then the next year, their own Christmas lights will be exactly the same red and so will their wrapping paper, nametags and candles.

After a few cups of Christmas spirit, they finally find the courage to comment on the seventeen or eighteen different vegetables served at lunch.
Karen never fails to buy a new set of serving dishes just to accommodate the greens, oranges and whites.

"Don't you dare put the green beans next to the mange-touts!"
"What's that vegetable, Mother?"
"I don't know, mind your own business!
Anyway, I just bought it because I needed something yellow.

When she finally sits down for lunch, she will play around with a lone Brussels sprout.
She will look around the table and a contented smile will relax her hassled face as the kids and grandkids heartily tuck in.

One week after Christmas, Karen will furtively dispose of that once beautiful Marks and Spencer's exotic stuffing with prunes and apricots and God knows what else. Mini pastries, REAL mince pies, fresh cranberry sauce and so on and so forth...

At least a few tenners' worth of food she'll have forgotten to dish out on Christmas Day!
She will swear to cut down next year.

Yeah, right!...

So, what do you have for Christmas Lunch and how well organised are you?

What colour is your theme, this year?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What makes a successful restaurant??

These are only my personal thoughts (not out of a manual) gathered over 20 years in the restaurant business. A great ride if you are up for it!

The essentials

The success and failure of a restaurant is as crystal clear as the “chicken and egg” conundrum but following a few necessary requirements will give a new restaurant at least some chance of surviving its first year. These are, in no particular order:



Each of these five items demands a minimum level below which the operation can seriously be hampered.
Hygiene comes top at required minimum of 90% of what is accepted as the norm for a given area.
Next, comes service at around 75% followed by food at between 60 and 70% depending on type of restaurant and country. For the Anglo-Saxons, average food can often be excused with the provision of good, caring and/or gregarious service.
This is not true of most Southern European and Mediterranean diners (I fortunately happen to belong to this group) who are more interested in the quality of the food than the way it is served.
Anglo-Saxons may also judge a restaurant by its décor 75% and atmosphere 75%, although this is increasingly applicable to the other group.

One does not necessarily need to achieve a maximum 100% in each category in order to open succeed but these levels have to be set right from the start according to the requirements of the given operation. It is imperative that they are maintained throughout the restaurant’s life. Any drop in these standards can be highly detrimental in the same way as any raise that has no prospect of being sustained.
The principal aim of the game is CONSISTENCY at the chosen standard level.

What makes the difference?

There is no worse experience than recommending or returning to a restaurant and finding that the standards have dropped.
Restaurants are not and definitely cannot afford to be rollercoaster rides. They cannot blow hot and cold like a partner. They are there to provide an unwavering product like any other business. The only difference that sets them apart from other businesses is that the product they provide is instant, time sensitive and cannot be physically returned for a refund. A dining experience is ephemeral and cannot be repeated. If one purchases a defective product, the seller is under a legal obligation to provide a refund. In the case of restaurants, what do you return? The experience? The consumed food? A refund will never provide a fitting replacement to a disappointing meal. Are you to change your birthday or your anniversary to accommodate the restaurant?

During or after many disappointing dinners, I have often wished I could have turned the clocks back and never stepped into the offending establishment.
I can honestly say that, in trying to discover good restaurants, I have had more bad meals than good ones.

The difference

Once an operator has selected and set the levels of the required standards listed earlier, the difference between a flash in the pan and an institution is another set of factors or tools that will ensure a high degree of consistency.

· Location, although not an essential prerequisite, can tremendously help a mediocre restaurant by providing a captive audience and reducing huge promotional expenses. It certainly will give a restaurant the edge on others that are not as well placed but one must not forget that location can easily shift if other areas are developed or become more fashionable. The perfect example is the London Docklands.

· Philosophy and mission: These must be clearly stated and understood by everyone. Loose statements like: “We want to serve good food” must be supported by infrastructure and tested and agreed systems. They must be clear and ideally measurable. Such as expecting customers to return within a certain period and enjoying the experience once again.

· Leadership: There has to be a carefully chosen management structure whose main task is to guide the rest of the team. Although employees need a certain degree of freedom they must operate within learned and accepted norms.

· Staff training: This is essential in all kinds of establishments old or new. Written records must be kept and staff training regularly reviewed especially with the introduction of new practices and new recruits.

· Good communication is essential to a well-oiled machine. It enables faster implementations of agreed plans. This may take the form of regular meetings with heads of departments, general meetings involving all employees, memos, etc…

· Eye for detail: Team members must be encouraged to regularly view the business with fresh eyes. Dishes and accompanying vegetables, wines and beverages need to be served at the right temperatures. Other crucial details comprise the lighting and its intensity, the background music and its volume, fresh flowers, immaculate glassware, etc…

· Innovation: Unless a business is failing totally and in need of a brand new image, only a certain amount of tweaking is required. This may be a need to keep up with trends, the introduction of new equipment or improved systems. Staff and customers need to be encouraged to contribute new ideas with the help of regular questionnaires, comment cards, suggestion boxes, food and wine tastings, etc…

· Sustained assessment of operation: The saying “You are only as you as the last meal you served” is definitely true although your ardent supporters may allow you the odd blip every now and then. One must not make the dreadful mistake of taking customers for granted. Every single visit by a customer, old and new must start with a clean slate, a new canvas upon which a brand new experience will be depicted.

The list can go on and on forever. I can assure you that, although I believe I have covered just about everything that will make a restaurant successful, anyone who plans to open one, must touch wood or have his or her fingers crossed. It seems that luck has a lot to do with it!

So, my professional advice to any prospective restaurateur is:

"Close your eyes and dive head first!"

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Tagged: 20 Random facts

Caroline tagged me to post 20 random facts about myself. I will tag the same amount of people as minutes it took me to write the facts...

  1. I speak English, French and Arabic
  2. I can understand and make myself understood in Italian, Greek and Spanish
  3. I drink lots of Espresso
  4. I play squash a couple of times a week and I am still alive
  5. I love dancing
  6. I am 5ft11"
  7. I enjoy going out for meals
  8. I spend a few weeks a year on the Costa Blanca
  9. I always have an hour in bed in the afternoon whether I go to sleep or not
  10. I studied Computing and Naval Architecture but my first real job was washing-up
  11. I love vegetables and my favourite is Green Beans sautéed in garlic butter and white wine.
  12. I attend a watercolour class on Mondays
  13. Unlucky for some but I don't mind it.
  14. My daily work should be done in no more than half an hour but I stretch it to eight hours...
  15. I hate making beds up
  16. I was a boy scout
  17. I cooked for 15 years without a single cookery lesson
  18. I love the Island of Madagascar and the Indian Ocean
  19. I can't bear to buy designer gear. My most expensive pair of shoes was £39!
  20. My sin is good red wine followed by Armagnac

I have tagged:
Julie Oakley

Let's hope they rise to the challenge!

For Christmas, I'd like a restaurant, darling...

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Most people have three dreams they would like to achieve in their lifetimes...

1-Travel the World,
2-Open a restaurant,
3-Write a book.

Writing a book is the one thing I am struggling with... But this is not about me.

It is about those good food enthusiasts who can afford to eat out at least twice midweek and love to entertain up to half a dozen friends on alternate Saturday nights.
And then, all of a sudden, a bolt of lightning strikes them and they decide to open a restaurant.

They look for the premises, negotiate, hire an expensive interior designer, import a French chef de cuisine, discover a sommelier at Oddbins, etc...

Homework? Of course, they like good food in great surroundings!
Location? A quaint little hamlet out in the sticks...

They have enough money to cover the unexpected extras!
The guy is an accountant. And you know how rich accountants and lawyers are!
The restaurant holds a launch evening for family and friends... The food and wine flow freely!
"Darling, this is the best meal I have had in ages!"
"My friend, you have here a bloody goldmine!"

In bed, they congratulate each other on a very successful evening! "We have cracked it! Everyone loved the food and wine!"

People out for a free lunch will tell you anything you wanna hear! It's a FREE LUNCH!

The following days, reality kicks in!

Customers fail to materialise and even those who happen to pop in are only after a quick snack, a cup of tea and a wee-wee!
The odd food guide inspector calls and falls in love with his own restaurant review while dissecting the pink Tournedos of Aberdeen Angus.
The prices are beyond the locals' modest pockets.
Not many people venture out from the city. That means a taxi each way.
Pascal turns out to be a drunken slob who downs a couple of bottles of Claret every night in the company of the Sommelier.
Mr. and Mrs. New Restaurant Owners begin to wonder why the restaurant is not successful. The expenses start mounting up!

Break even point? Gross profit margin? Wage percentage... Foreign language!

Pascal is replaced by the commis-chef. The Sommelier by the Tracy, the barmaid.

A few agonising weeks or months (if they are lucky) down the line,
the FOR SALE sign appears.

What could possibly have gone wrong??? You tell me!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Response to Travelling Places....

Hi, All
My response to all your postings would have been too long to stick in the comments so here it is.

Glad everyone agrees that there are too many places to mention!

For those who left the old World for the Americas, there must have been a paramount desire to recreate their abandoned lives wherever they landed and made a new home. For they must have known deep down that it had been a one-way ticket.
And naming their new homestead after the one they left must have come as a natural progression. New Amsterdam, New York, etc...

Nowadays, for many of us who live in parts of the World other than our birthplaces, the subject of belonging remains a minefield.

The whole exercise was prompted by an exiled Chilean poet I heard a while ago on radio whose only wish when he died was to be buried in hometown.
That must have struck a chord with me because the first sentence of a will I made many moons ago was:
"I, Cream...,HEREBY REVOKE all former wills and testamentary dispositions at any time heretofore made by me.
I DESIRE that my body be buried in the public cemetary of my hometown of Cream City...under the
old cypress tree if it still stands..."

Today I am not really that convinced that I should lumber my descendants' inheritance (if I happen to leave anything at all) with the enormous expense of ferrying my dead remains thousands of miles to a tiny town where I doubt many would remember me.
So I am working on a quick dispatch version.

My question of belonging seems to be slowly but surely becoming clearer if being intered back in the old country is no longer a primordial requirement to my present happiness...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Travelling places...

I have discovered (through Shyha, whose photos are truly amazing) a blog called Durham Township.

The photos are some of the best I have ever seen. Colours that warm the cockles of your heart.
It is endearingly strange (or strangely endearing) how British place names have travelled to the US.
This Durham is not very far from Washington the same as their British counterparts. Durham City is only about 10 miles from Washington (Tyne & Wear) supposedly the place that gave birth to the ancestors of the first US president George Washington.

Can anyone think of other placenames that travelled far and wide across the pond or are they too many to mention?
I can think of at least one: birthplace of the KING, Memphis all the way from Egypt!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Wind Powered Arguments.

Windmills... What windmills... That's the enemy, stupid!

Wind power seems a great way to produce clean energy.

Most people tend to agree until they start moaning that they are getting too close to their homes.

How can one convince people that sustainable sources of energy are the way to save the planet?

Can you please enumerate ways to disguise the windmills to make them blend with nature? We need a lot of hot air!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Just a little espression!

Espresso, Presse, Express, Solo, Kaffee...
Call it what you want! Just Espress yourselves...

I have been drinking coffee ever since I can remember. My mother added chicory to it to make it go further.
A massive round mug, more like a soup bowl with full cream milk. Every morning before school, after school and just before bed!
Then at boarding school, the same thing. Morning, afternoon and night.
The big city and IT school when computers were petrol driven. The first espresso on a sunny terrace...
Hooked if I had not been already!
Crossed two seas... Opened my eyes...
Scottish coffee a letdown back in those days...
Italian friends smuggled shots of espresso to the college cafeteria...
English coffee not much better...
Except at the Italian caff... Had to wait for it! Brewed while you wait instead of the stuff poured to the common folk...
Lost in the Med... Demanded Greek coffee in Turkey and Turkish coffee in Greece... Nearly started another war....
Lost on the Indian Ocean... Found real Kenyan coffee...
Back to England... Tried every coffee on offer... The sun did not shine once...
Washed up in an Italian Pizzeria... Would have taken coffee as payment... But the free coffee flowed...
Then came the restaurants...
My own espresso MACHINE !
So friendly it switches itself on as soon as I open the front door at 9am...
Addicted? No way, my dear... This is a love affair!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Is the grass really greener?

Is it really?

When the urge of chucking everything and following my true dreams takes me, I dive into a book, surf the net, open a good bottle of red wine, or just draw something...

By the time I am finished, the urge to up-and-away has usually subsided enough for me to get back to earth with a little bump... till the next time.
Should we forget our childhood dreams when we are stuck in the rat race? Will we have enough time to fulfil our dreams once we hit the finishing line?

Or should we do things by little instalments? One dream at a time and mark it off our wish list...?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A load of bull...

I have always wanted to attend a Corrida, Fiesta de toros, etc... but never managed to go during the right season. The killing season.

I am really in two minds as to whether I would enjoy one.
I love the music and the clamour, the "oles" and the thumbs down (do they do that?)
And I am sure that if I am far enough not to be splashed with Sangre de Toro (not the wine!) I might enjoy it.
I know that I would have to go on my own. Karen doesn't the sight of cold tripe or liver and onions...

Picadors, matadors, toreadors... How many butchers does it take to slice a T-bone steak?

In this drawing the bull looks as if he is licking the matador's shiny black shoes. Or is he kissing them?
"Come, senor Toro! Stand up! Are you a bull or a mouse?"

Friday, October 07, 2005

Nobel Peace Prize

Today Mr Mohamed_El Baradei was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his achievements with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Atomic Energy is very subjective stuff! Just like UN resolutions...

One country can be invaded for not abiding by them and another can just flout them and never even get a slap on the hand.

If it hadn't been for Vanunu no one would have known that Israel had its own ... Nuclear Energy Production

Just a thought...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What's more important?

To the guy on the left, losing the trousers at poker seems to have been less important than losing the hat!?

If you began playing strip poker with your life, what would you discard first and what would you keep till last?

What is left when you stick your life in a sieve, what would remain at the end? Friends, family, memories, dignity, regrets...?

The first thing I would discard would be my vanity...
Then the rest would follow very easily...

Monday, October 03, 2005

What's the missing ingredient?

Now then, what is the missing ingredient here?

While on holiday, I made my usual ratatouille and decided to draw its ingredients. I was drinking a very good Rioja at the time!
The following morning, I looked at the drawing and realised that I had forgotten one of the main ingredients of this delicious dish, eaten hot or cold throughout the Med in various guises.
My version is the French one... hence "La Cuisine du Soleil" written on the sand.
Can you guess the missing ingredient?

I am back after two weeks of Costa Blanca sun, food, wine and village celebrations! Amazing!

Who links to me?